Virgin picks Sydney

Virgin Blue (AFP Photo: Greg Wood).

Virgin Blue has selected Sydney Airport for its jet base. (AFP Photo: Greg Wood)

Sydney Airport has been chosen as Virgin Blue’s new training and maintenance base, scheduled to be operational by the end of this year.

The new base, which is set to become a line maintenance hub for the airline’s Australian-based aircraft, is expected to provide a significant economic boost for the NSW economy, creating around 1,000 jobs and attracting more than $10 million of investment for the state’s aviation market.

A site at Botany will be utilised for the training of pilots and cabin crew.

NSW Development Minister Ian MacDonald said Sydney was the logical choice over other capital cities such as Brisbane, Melbourne and Canberra.

“Virgin has shown confidence in Sydney and NSW by effectively creating 2,000 new jobs over the last six months in Sydney,” he told the ABC.

“It’s fantastic news for our economy that’ll bring a lot of economic benefits into NSW.”

Virgin Blue chief executive Brett Godfrey said the expansion was part of a direct investment of more than $60 million in NSW.

“If you consider the investment in infrastructure, particularly the Botany facility, I think…comfortably in excess of that,” Mr Godfrey told AAP.

Earlier this year, the carrier has also decided to house the operating headquarters of its new international long-haul brand V Australia at Mascot, NSW.  

While the company also operates similar facilities in Brisbane and Melbourne, their work will not be redirected to the Sydney hub as it will house part of an expanding fleet.

Transport think tank meets

The Victoria Transport Association’s (VTA) Industry Think Tank has held its first meeting to set priorities for the freight sector.

VTA president Paul Freestone said: “Whilst there is no silver bullet, it is the little things that add up. As an industry, we recognise the need to raise our profile in advocating the case for change.

“Now is the time to clearly articulate the issues, outline the opportunities that can be acted upon quickly, and do it.”

The Industry Think Tank was established to provide a focus for the sector in generating ideas and actions that can immediately improve the sector.

Revolving around the urban freight task, the meeting has suggested low-cost options including sequencing of traffic lights, re-marking of lanes, implementing clearways during peak hours and the introduction of high productivity vehicles.

The meeting also brought up longer term issues such as completing the Melbourne road network, improving intermodal freight linkages and a prioritised list of infrastructure projects. 

VTA CEO and chairman of the Think Tank Philip Lovel said as the freight industry came to face an unprecedented challenge with cost increases, a collaborative approach was essential to find innovated solutions.

“The cost of moving goods is going through the roof. In the past the freight sector could achieve efficiencies that meant the consumers were insulated. These opportunities have dried up, and the public is about to experience some real price increased because of these cost rises,” Mr Lovel said.

“We need to get together to find new ways of doing business, and to take more cost out of moving goods. Otherwise, the public will simply pay more, and jobs will be lost in the community.”

Also proposed at the meeting were a number of trials and case studies to “give freight a go”, including after hours access trials to local businesses, a 24/7 taskforce to demonstrate the benefits of wider access, high productivity vehicle trials and a rail efficiencies summit to map an action strategy.

“The Industry Think Tank will pursue these issues to achieve some immediate wins and to advocate future change,” Mr Lovel said.

“We have to take a positive attitude to meeting the future freight task. It’s better to find mutually acceptable innovative solutions, rather than adopting a negative attitude that things can’t be done.”

Mega car carrier sets sail

Wallenius Wilhelmsen's m/v ANIARA

The world’s largest car and truck carrier, m/v ANIARA.

Global shipping company Wallenius Wilhelmsen has added what is claimed to be “the world’s largest and most environmentally adapted” car and truck carrier, m/v ANIARA, to its fleet.

Built at the Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering yard in Korea, the vessel has a capacity of 8,000 cars with 71,673 gross tonnage, and is 231.6 metres high.

The company said advanced features of the vessel were reinforced and moveable vehicle decks and an extra wide and strong stern ramp, with maximum deck height also raised to 6.5 metres.

“These features make m/v ANIARA one of the most versatile and flexible RoRo vessels afloat,” it said.

The vessel is equipped with PureBallast, a chemical-free ballast water treatment system developed by Wallenius Water and Alfa Laval. It is to be approved by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

The company added: “The new vessel has 15 per cent lower CO2 emissions compared to earlier vessels, as well as reduced emissions of SOx, NOx and particulate matters.

“The vessel is also equipped with an electronically controlled main engine, assuring low emissions at part loads. To reduce NOx emissions, slide valves are installed on the main engine.”

The company said the vessel’s other environmental features included the use of tin-free bottom paints, biodegradable oil in all hydraulic systems and electronically controlled cylinder oil lubricators to minimise cylinder oil consumption. 

Qantas still safe: Dixon

Qantas mid-air explosion.

The Qantas mid-air explosion in July left a hole on the jet’s fuselage.

The lately accident-prone Qantas has said it would work closely with safety authorities to implement corrective actions, but Federal Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese has warned the carrier could experience another incident.

A preliminary investigation report into the mid-air explosion in July found while the fuselage and some flight system sustained damage, the aircraft “continued to operate safely”.

The report released by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) said one of the B747-400’s oxygen system cylinders failed but safe operation enabled the aircraft to land in Manila without further incident.

The carrier’s chief executive Geoff Dixon said the ATSB’s preliminary conclusions were in line with its own investigation.

“We will continue to assist the ATSB to ensure the factors that may have contributed to the incident are understood and that any corrective actions ultimately identified are implemented,” he said.

He said the jet involved in the Manila accident would be repaired at a cost of less than $10 million to be back in service in this November.

He added the company would also collaborate with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) to implement the recommendations included in its review of the airline’s engineering and maintenance operations. 

Deputy chief executive of CASA operations Mick Quinn said the authority has identified “emerging problems”.

“CASA has looked carefully at the Qantas maintenance systems and performance and uncovered signs of emerging problems,” he said in a statement.

“The review found maintenance performance with Qantas is showing some adverse trends and is now below the airline’s own benchmarks.”

Mr Dixon said these difficulties, while improving, would continue for a few weeks.

“These issues are not about safety or compliance and we are working to bring our network performance back to the standards which have earned us a reputation as one of the best and most reliable airlines in the world,” he said. 

The company underwent over the past 12 month more than 100 external audits, including 14 by CASA and on by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Commenting on air safety and the Qantas incident in Manila, Federal Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese said this type of accident could happen again.

Mr Albanese said the government could step in to ensure any recommendations made by the ATSB are implemented.

“We need to put in place any measures from the report and recommendations that the ATSB make will be implemented in full by the government,” he told the Nine Network.

While “issues of concern” still remain, he said Qantas had coped with the accident extraordinarily well.   

“One of the things that must be not forgotten about this is the extraordinary response from the Qantas pilot and crew,” he said.

Meanwhile, the carrier faced yet another maintenance glitch early this week, when a Qantas flight from Singapore to London was diverted to Germany after vibration prompted one of its engines to be shut down. A company spokesperson said the Boeing 747-400 carrying 350 passengers landed in Frankfurt without incident.

Profits flow in to the Port of Melbourne

Port of Melbourne.

The Port of Melbourne has reported a net profit after tax of $43.3 million in the 2007/08 fiscal year, with the seventeenth consecutive year of growth in its core container trade being a key contributor.

Its total revenue grew $29.4 million to $171.5 million, while total expenditure fell $3.9 million to $103.8 million.

The strong result benefited from a 7.8 per cent increase in total container trade to 2.26 million TEU, making the Australian port one of the world’s top fifty container ports.

The port’s CEO Stephen Bradford said another year of solid financial result was made possible by its ongoing extensive capital investment program to secure the port’s long-term sustainability.

“In a challenging trading environment, which included higher fuel prices and ongoing drought conditions in south-eastern Australia, we have invested a further $48.5 million during the year in essential port infrastructure.

“To improve facilities for our customers and port users, we have now invested over $200 million in port infrastructure over the past five years, excluding the channel deepening project,” Mr Bradford said.

With an additional $126.8 million invested in the channel deepening project in the year, dredging for the project is now 31 per cent complete, amounting to a total volume of 7.25 million cubic metres dredged to date.

The port’s total net assets were now reported to be $1.2 billion and total trade grew by 6.7 per cent to 75.7 million tonnes in the year.

The company said nearly all cargo types contributed to the strong performance while liquid and dry bulk cargoes experienced marginal declines.

The 2007/08 dividend to the Victorian Government is scheduled to be paid in October this year.

Going on strike is no answer: ATA

Despite the hardships currently faced by the trucking industry, the proposed two-week shutdown from July 28 is not the answer, the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) said.

ATA chairman Trevor Martyn said while trucking companies are in crisis due to the spiralling price of diesel, going on strike would not provide a solution to their difficulties.

“Many people in the trucking industry are now watching their life’s work collapse around them. But going on strike and standing around truck stops for two weeks isn’t the answer,” Mr Martyn said.

“The price of diesel is going up across the world because of China’s massive demand for fuel. Holding a two-week strike in Australia will have no effect on prices at all.”

He said instead of seeking an ineffective measure, trucking operators need to devise reasonable strategies by reviewing their costs on a weekly basis and negotiating with customers to lift freight rates.

“Some companies will need to increase their freight rates by more than 20 per cent,” he said.

“Most importantly, they need to refuse to accept jobs that do not pay enough to cover their costs.”

Mr Martyn added the introduction of new fatigue management laws in September is among the industry’s biggest concerns and called for a national uniform regulation to ward off inconsistencies.

He said: “The new laws will be an absolute fiasco, because the state and territory governments are out of control and have ignored the industry’s need for consistency across the state borders.

“The only solution is for the Australian Government to take over heavy vehicle regulation. The states have had their chance and failed. We need national regulation with strong involvement from the industry.”

Pacific National to develop Parkes Intermodal Terminal

Parkes Transport Hub

Asciano has announced that its rail subsidiary, Pacific National, has completed the purchase of 327 hectares of freehold land in the Parkes Multi-Modal Transport Hub, NSW, for the development of an intermodal freight terminal.

The freehold land has Concept Plans already approved by the NSW Minister of Planning for the development of an intermodal freight terminal and container storage and warehousing.

The site has sufficient land to accommodate the rail terminal and co-location of a container storage centre as well as national logistics and distribution facilities. A staged development will allow Pacific National the flexibility to add capacity to its intermodal operations as it is needed in the future.

The proposed terminal will increase the company’s ability to double-stack trains from Parkes to Perth originating out of Sydney, and will add capacity to handle additional rail freight volumes that are expected to grow significantly over the next 20 years.

Asciano managing director and chief executive officer, Mark Rowsthorn, said; “Located west of Parkes, the land sits right at the junction of the east-west interstate rail corridor and proposed Melbourne to Brisbane inland rail corridor.

“The proposed terminal will provide direct mainline access to both corridors and will ensure Pacific National has prime position on the proposed Inland Rail route”, he said.

Image Courtesy of Parkes Shire Council

Toll, Scotts eye off FreightLink

FreightLink

South Australian transport entrepreneur Allan Scott is eyeing the Adelaide-Darwin rail line, which has been put up for sale by FreightLink, with Paul Little’s Toll Holdings expected to join the party.

According to an ABC report, founder of Scott’s Transport has expressed his interest in operating the rail freight service, adding the rail corridor needs improvement in infrastructure to hand heavy freight.

“I think it’s an investment – we’re the biggest users of it and Toll [Holdings] are next, so what do we do?” he said.

“You know we can’t afford to lose it, we can’t afford to have it closed down and the banks are starting to call up the money, so something has to be done.”

While Freightlink has recently increased the number of weekly freight services to Darwin, the operator has been making losses.

Mr Scott, however, stressed the rail service should continue to operate to sustain a number of industries.

“A lot of our industry and a lot of our produce goes up on that rail and a lot of stuff from Melbourne goes on that rail, so it’s very important that it be kept going.”

SA agriculture minister Rory McEwen welcomed Mr Scott’s interest, saying it would provide the state’s industry with a significant boost.

“Mr Scott’s obviously a very experienced and successful freight operator in all its forms. He’s proved that around Australia and built a magnificent transport industry…based in Mt Gambier,” he said.

“To add a railway line to that would be a great part of his vision.”

Toll Holdings would partner Scott Group in a bid to buy FreightLink, a Toll spokesman also confirmed today.

Emirates flies high, earns lots

Sheiikh Ahmed Emirates Airlines

The Emirates Group has announced its 20th consecutive year of net profit, notching a new profit record despite soaring oil prices and challenging business conditions in the second half of its 2007-08 fiscal year.

Group net profits increased 54.1 per cent to AED 5.3 billion (US$ 1.45 billion) for the financial year ended 31st March 2008, on revenues of AED 41.2 billion ($ 11.2 billion) compared to the previous year’s AED 31.1 billion ($ 8.5 billion). The group net margin improved to 13.2 per cent from 11.4 per cent in the previous year.

The group also retained a robust cash balance of AED 14.0 billion ($ 3.8 billion), compared with AED 12.9 billion ($ 3.5 billion) the previous year. Emirates will pay a dividend of AED 1 billion ($ 272.5 million) to its owner, the Government of Dubai. In 2007-08, the group estimates a direct contribution of AED 22 billion ($ 6 billion), and another AED 25 billion ($ 6.8 billion) in indirect contribution to the UAE economy.

The 2007-08 Annual Report of the Emirates Group – comprising Emirates Airline, Dnata and subsidiary companies – was released in Dubai at a news conference hosted by Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum, chairman and chief executive, Emirates Airline and Group.

The group’s latest record performance reflects its success in growing customer demand through the strategic expansion of its business operations across six continents, supported by ongoing investments in the latest technology, products and customer service while keeping a tight rein on costs. This is illustrated by the 21.2 million passengers who flew with Emirates in the latest financial year, 3.7 million more than in the previous year; as well as the expansion of Dnata’s international ground handling operations to 17 airports in seven countries.

Fuel costs remained the top expenditure for the 4th year running, accounting for 30.6 per cent of total operating costs compared with 29.1 per cent the previous year and 27.2 per cent the year before. 

The airline’s  fuel risk management programme continued to reap rewards, saving the company AED 888 million ($242 million) in 2007-08, as WTI crude oil prices hovered around the US$ 90 per barrel mark in the second half of the fiscal year, 50 per cent more than US$ 60 per barrel in the same period the year before. In total, the fuel risk management has saved in excess of AED 3.7 billion ($ 1 billion) since the financial year 2000-01. 

In his opening review in the 2007-08 Annual Report, Sheikh Ahmed highlighted some major milestones for the group which included the move of most of the company’s Dubai-based staff to the new Emirates Group Headquarters; the launch of 11 new passenger and freighter destinations across the globe including Emirates’ first South American destination; and the massive 2007 Dubai Air Show aircraft order which has been described as the largest in civil aviation history worth US$ 34.9 billion at list prices.

He also noted that the continued ability to attract and retain the best talent for the company’s growing requirements will be one of the Group’s biggest challenges.

He said: “As we plan for the next decade, our biggest challenges will be to find more pilots, engineers, cabin crew and skilled staff across our various business units. Fortunately, Emirates has thus far been a strong employer brand, with more than three million unique visitors browsing job opportunities on our online recruitment website last year, from which we received over 288,000 applications for positions within the Group. Being based in Dubai also has its advantages as the city itself is already preparing to welcome 15 million visitors by 2010 and there is massive investment in infrastructure to serve and attract the increasing number of expatriates.”

He also reiterated the Emirates Group’s support for Dubai’s new low-cost airline, which has been established as a separate entity from the Emirates Group; and remarked on competition in the region, saying: “This is a big cake and admittedly, Emirates has a big slice of it, but there is plenty for the other airlines and we welcome them to the region.”

Emirates Airline’s revenues totalled AED 39.5 billion ($ 10.8 billion), an increase of 32.3 per cent from AED 29.8 billion ($ 8.1 billion) the previous year. Airline profits of AED 5 billion ($1.37 billion) marked a 62.1 per cent increase over 2006-07’s record profits of AED 3.1 billion ($844 million).

This result was due to improved yields and higher load factors on increased capacity; as well as other operating gains.

In 2007-08, the airline’s fleet expanded with 11 new Boeing 777s delivered, including Emirates’ first 777-200LR passenger aircraft. At the end of the financial year Emirates’ fleet reached 114 aircraft, including 10 freighters, boasting an average age of 67 months – one of the youngest commercial fleets in the skies.

The record aircraft order at the 2007 Dubai Air Show brings Emirates’ total order book, excluding options, to 182 aircraft at the end of March 2008, worth approximately US $58 billion.

During the year, the airline launched passenger services to seven new destinations – Newcastle, Venice, Sao Paulo, Ahmedabad, Toronto, Houston and Cape Town – and strengthened its existing network by adding services onto existing routes most notably to high-demand cities in China, India, Middle East and Africa.

Passenger seat factor increased to 79.8 per cent from 76.2 per cent the previous year. Traffic increased faster by 16.6 per cent to 14,739 million tonne kilometers as compared to the capacity increase of 13.7 per cent to 22,078 million tonne kilometers. While yield improved for the sixth consecutive year to 236 fils (64 US cents) per RTKM (Revenue Tonne Kilometre), up from 216 fils (59 US cents) in 2006-07; high jet fuel prices and rising costs drove breakeven load factor up to 62.7 per cent from 59.9 per cent last year.

Emirates SkyCargo performed well in what was a turbulent year for the air cargo industry, marking healthy revenue and tonnage carried despite high fuel prices, a U.S. slowdown from the sub-prime crisis, and bad weather affecting agricultural production in key areas. The division carried 1.3 million tonnes of cargo, an improvement of 10.9 per cent over the previous year’s 1.2 million tonnes and recorded a revenue increase of 20 per cent to AED 6.4 billion ($ 1.8 billion), up from AED 5.4 billion ($ 1.5 billion) in 2006-07.

Cargo revenue contributed 19 per cent to the airline’s total transport revenue, yet again one of the highest contributions of any airline in the world with a similar fleet. During the year, Emirates SkyCargo introduced freighter-only destinations to Djibouti, Hahn, Toledo and Zaragoza. At the end of the financial year, the freighter fleet was 10 aircraft – five leased and five owned. In all, Emirates SkyCargo carried freight in 114 aircraft, including bellyhold space in the passenger fleet, to 99 cities on six continents.

Dnata recorded strong revenue growth of 27.2 per cent to AED 2.6 billion ($718 million), compared with AED 2.1 billion ($565 million) the previous year. Profits reached AED 305 million ($83 million) despite a challenging year for airport and cargo operations with ongoing construction at Dubai airport and peak traffic congestion.

As Dnata moves into its 50th year of operation in 2008, it remains at the core of Dubai’s rapid traffic growth, handling 119,510 aircraft (up nine per cent), 35.6 million passengers (up 18.4 per cent), and 632,549 tonnes of cargo (up 18.2 per cent).

During 2007-08, Dnata continued to expand its international ground handling operations, investing in ground handling businesses in Switzerland, Australia and China, to bring its reach to 17 airports in seven countries. It opened FreightGate-5 in Dubai Airport Freezone to handle premium freight, and also saw operations at Dubai Terminal 2 increased with the opening of a 37,000 square foot extension that will serve 700 more flights per week and an annual throughput of approximately 5 million passengers.

As of 31st March 2008, the Group employed 35,286 staff, representing 145 different nationalities. During the year, the Group hired more than 7,000 people including some 2,000 cabin crew and 400 new flight deck crew.

For the full report and accounts, visit: www.ekgroup.com.

Photo: Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum

Queensland Rail not for sale

Queensland Transport Minister John Mickel has decided not to privatise Queensland Rail but has foreshadowed job losses whilst it is restructured, according to a report in The Financial Review.

Mr Mickel is reportedly in favour of more joint ventures with the private sector, and has admitted the rail operator will need to improve its performance in light of Asciano’s Pacific National taking aim at the hitherto monopoly that QR had on Queensland coal transport.

The statement follows recent Queensland Government announcements on the sale of Cairns and Mackay airports and its 12.5 per cent share of Brisbane airport.

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